Topeka — Some say his eloquence and his knowledge of corrections and social issues make him a key player in the 1993 legislative session.
Still others say they were shocked or at least surprised that a freshman legislator would lead the opposition against a resolution calling on Congress for an amendment to ban flag burning or speak against a bill that would take away some privacy rights of people who have AIDS.
With the 90-day legislative session halfway complete, Rep. Forrest Swall, D-Lawrence, has started to make his mark in Topeka.
During the past week, Swall went down to the microphone three times an unusual amount for a freshman legislator to address the full House on issues he felt strongly about.
Swall, who is on leave as an assistant professor of social welfare at Kansas University, was elected last fall to the House 45th District seat. His district represents several neighborhoods in Lawrence as well as rural western Douglas County.
Swall said he hasn't hesitated to go down to the microphone to speak his mind during floor debate on the bills.
"One thing is the timing in selecting the issues I want to have some impact on," he said. "I think if you're more selective about appearances at the mike, people are more inclined to pay attention to you."
REPUBLICAN AND Democratic legislators from various parts of the state said they've taken notice of Swall's stands on social issues.
"I'd say he's a little left of most of the legislators," said Speaker Pro Tem Tim Shallenburger, R-Baxter Springs. "But there's been a long-standing assumption that most of the legislators from Lawrence have been a little more liberal so I don't know that he's breaking with tradition."
Lawmakers from university towns tend to be more willing to spend money on programs and more eager to support social welfare programs, he said.
"It's just something about a university town," Shallenburger said. "KU is sort of the stronghold of liberalism, and being a professor of social welfare, he's probably one of the leaders."
A VETERAN Democrat, Rep. Gary Blumenthal, D-Merriam, said Swall is "certainly professorial," and noted that Swall has been a major resource for the Legislature in the past.
Before Swall was elected, the KU professor had been called on during committee hearings to provide information on social welfare and corrections issues.
"I think he is very well integrated into the system and head and shoulders above most novices from his years of coming up and testifying before the Legislature," Blumenthal said.
Rep. Ed McKechnie, D-Pittsburg, who as Democratic caucus chairman is charged with helping the 18 freshmen Democrats in the House learn the process, said Swall is making his mark early.
"I think what he has done is spoken eloquently on a number of issues he believes in," McKechnie said. "I think people respect his comments and I think they see them as very helpful, and I think he's done a good job."
McKECHNIE said Swall has been especially involved in the House Democrats' task forces on social issues, children and family issues and corrections issues.
"He's really shown the commitment to be an aggressive legislator for Douglas County," McKechnie said.
Swall, who serves on the House Public Health and Welfare, Agriculture, and Economic Development committees, is also serving as an intern on the House Appropriations Committee.
"It's a really good learning place for freshmen who have an interest in state spending and who have the patience to go through that process," McKechnie said. "He has to be here for 7 a.m. subcommittee meetings. So he's putting in long days."
He said Swall's experience has made him a player in the legislative process.
"I THINK Forrest has been a leader on using common sense on the way government operates," McKechnie said. "Some who come up here would like us to do across the board cuts when times are tough. Forrest is one of those who would like to us work smarter and more efficiently."
Swall also is focusing his energies into understanding the budget and into public health and welfare issues.
"That is the mark of a good legislator," McKechnie said. "Once you've learned a couple of issues and understand the process, everything else is much easier to accomplish."
McKechnie balked when asked how Swall fit on the liberal-to-conservative continuum instead he said he would rate Swall a "10" on the responsible scale.
"Some people will come up here and try to develop a persona, try to develop an image," McKechnie said. "I think all he's trying to do is come up and accomplish what he said he was going to do in his campaign. You don't see a lot of flash. You see a lot of hard work."